23andMe sues Ancestry.com: 5 things to know
23andMe, the second largest direct-to-consumer genetic testing company, filed a lawsuit against its top competitor in a California federal district court May 11.
Here are five things to know about 23andMe’s lawsuit against Ancestry.com, the largest provider of direct-to-consumer genealogy services:
1. 23andMe alleged Ancestry.com infringed on its patented method for identifying a customer’s relatives based on a DNA sample. The intellectual property lawsuit focuses on whether Ancestry.com uses 23andMe’s methods for returning results — such as the company’s confidence in potential relatives — to its customers, according to Wired.
“23andMe is a company built on innovation and we have brought this action to defend our intellectual property rights,” 23andMe said in a statement to Wired.
2. The 2013 patent cited in the lawsuit — titled “Finding relatives in a database” — describes how 23andMe analyzes a customer’s genome to determine potential family members. The method leverages a concept dubbed “identical by descent,” which matches the percentage of shared DNA between different people to estimate how related they are to one another.
3. Legal experts cited by Wired hypothesize Ancestry.com will argue 23andMe’s patent is invalid, either by claiming the company did not invent the technology or by saying the company’s genealogy method is an abstract idea that cannot be patented. The process outlined in 23andMe’s patent is widely used among population geneticists, according to a genetics researcher at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass.
4. In its lawsuit, 23andMe accused Ancestry.com of “misleading advertising.” 23andMe alleged Ancestry.com advertises that it offers “5x more regions than other DNA tests,” only acknowledging it does not test for five times more regions than 23andMe in small print.
23andMe also asked the court to nullify Ancestry.com’s trademarked name, “Ancestry,” arguing the word is a generic term used by various other companies in the genealogy space, according to Bloomberg. In the past, Ancestry.com has alleged 23andMe’s use of the world “Ancestry” in its products infringes on the company’s trademark, according to the lawsuit.
5. 23andMe’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and disgorgement of any profits Ancestry.com earned as a result of its allegedly misleading advertisements.
An Ancestry.com spokesperson told Wired the company intends to “vigorously defend ourselves against these claims.”